There’s a 30-year-old Commodore Amiga still controlling heat and AC in 19 public schools

An old Commodore 500 computer.
Les Chatfield/Flickr
Believe it or not, there’s a 30-year-old Commodore Amiga computer in Michigan that still controls the heat and air conditioning systems in 19 public schools of the Grand Rapids School district.

The Amiga was introduced to the school system in the 1980s and still runs on a unique 1,200 bit per second modem, according to local Michigan news source WoodTV. Although now considered an antique, at the time of its release, the Commodore’s monitor, mouse, and hard drive were all considered cutting-edge. The computer was purchased with the money from an energy bond and replaced one that was as large as refrigerator.

“It’s a very unique product,” said Grand Rapids Public Schools Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins. “How it runs, the software that it’s running, is unique to Commodore.”

The Commodore Amiga runs the heat and air conditioning scheme in all 19 schools by controlling the boilers, fans, and pumps, as well as monitoring the temperatures in each building. All of its responsibilities were programmed over a quarter-century ago and the school district actually calls in the original programmer from time-to-time when it acts up (he still lives in the neighborhood).

Nineteen of the Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan are supplied with heating and air conditioning supplied by a Commodore Amiga from the 80's.
Nineteen of the Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan are supplied with heating and air conditioning supplied by a Commodore Amiga from the 80’s. Grand Rapids Public Schools

The system operates on a radio frequency that sends signals to each building and receives status reports within seconds, Hopkins said. And here’s the rub: If that 30-year-old computer decides to stop working, each building’s climate would need to be adjusted manually.

Oh, and did we mention that the frequency the system runs on actually interferes with the maintenance team’s walkie-talkies? When this happens, everybody has to clear off their radios for about 15 minutes. The technology still works as well as it ever has, but it’s quirky and faulty from time-to-time.

As loyal as the Commodore Amiga has been to the Grand Rapids School District, officials are still considering an upgrade to a newer system that would cost them up to $2 million.

That’s a lot of moolah to spend on upgrades though, so we wouldn’t be surprised if they just keep the Commodore around. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

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